April 24, 2008

Deer oil painting

I started this oil painting of a deer in the woods several months ago, and got overwhelmed by the thought of trying to paint all that green and make it look like something other than just a stippled wash. I have decided to give it a go again, but I may have to lighten the background to allow a little sky to show through.
This is the original that I am working from:

abstract landscape

I painted this little landscape a few weeks ago, and have been looking at it for a while, trying to decide how to proceed. After staring at it for a while, I have decided that it is done, and any further tinkering would probably ruin it.

It is 8 x 8 inches, oil on canvas.

April 20, 2008

Dog Show

It wasn't a particularly creative weekend, but it was an enjoyable one. We spent three days at the dog show with our borzoi. She won Best of Breed each day. I'm sure it had nothing to do with the fact that she was the only borzoi in the show - no competition means that she automatically gets best in breed. She didn't win any prizes and the group level, so she didn't get any points for this show. It was her first show, though, so it was good practice for both of us. Here she is standing pretty.

April 16, 2008

Costa Rica Day eight

I managed to snap a picture of this spider web in the early morning sunlight just before we left the hotel. Luckily nobody walked into it.Our last full day in Costa Rica was spent travelling back to San Jose. We stopped at a road-side market where they had mountains of watermelons and other fresh fruit

We also stopped in Sarchi, which is a small town that had a few stores offering locally crafted artworks. This is a picture of the local breast screening clinic. Although the country is very poor, they have a well-established public health care system.
We stayed in a nice hotel in downtown San Jose, and went out for a festival supper at a local restaurant where there was a performance by local dancers demonstrating the traditional dances. We were all pretty tired, and since we had to get up at 4:00 am to make it to the airport in time for our flight, we returned to the hotel and bed as soon as the performance was over.

It was a fascinating trip, but everyone was grateful to return home.

Costa Rica Day Seven

We visited Manuel Antonio National Park, which is a tiny little park on the coast. It was less than a quarter section of land, but home to howler monkeys,


and lots of lizards

The park was also home to one of only two known troupes of spider monkeys in central america, although we didn't see them. After trekking though the forest, we spent the afternoon at one of several beaches. These ones didn't have rip tides and were quite safe for swimming. We had a bit of time to just lay on the beach under the palm trees and enjoy the heat and the view.

These orange-cheeked parakeets were everywhere, eating the fruit of the trees around our hotel.

Costa Rica Day Six

We left Monteverde the next morning, and headed toward the coast. Once again the road was a narrow gravel track, winding along the ridge of the mountains, with a steep drop only inches from the bus tires. The terrain got drier as we progressed toward the ocean, because climate change is causing desertification of this once-lush tropical area.

There were coffee plantations all along the road, planted on the steep sides of the dry hills. Our first stop that day was at the Tarcoles river. The bus stopped and let everyone off on one side of the bridge, to let everyone walk to the other side and to stop in the middle to look a the wild crocodiles in the river below.

These suckers were HUGE, basking in the sun and waiting for some tasty morsel to wander from safety. Carlos said that when he first started researching bird numbers, he was collecting data in Carara National Park, which is right beside the river. He had a few close encounters with these crocs by accidentally blundering into their nesting area.
Once across the river, we climbed back into the bus for the very short trip to the park entrance. Carara National Park was originally owned by a man who bought the area so he could capture wild macaws and export them to the US for sale. That is now illegal, and the park is a protected area where the macaws nest and are trying to replenish their numbers. The soil is very shallow, so trees have huge buttressed trunks that help them stay upright.

There are lots of creepy crawlies in the undergrowth...
and some spectacular flowers:

Carlos showed us a camera he had set up with a motion detector to take pictures of the baby macaws in the nest in the hollow in this tree (remember I mentioned he was an Ornithologist and studied local birds when he wasn't leading tours):

After our tour through the park, we headed off to our hotel. We passed through huge palm oil plantations. This was not a native tree, but the climate is perfect to grow these palms, and the government is exploring ways of developing this industry. It seems quite destructive to the natural environment, but at least it is green.

The hotel for the next couple of nights was right on the ocean, by this beautiful beach. There were no other people on the beach, except for the hotel lifeguards, so we had it all to ourselves. The water was rather dangerous, because of the powerful rip tides, and the hotel had a few patrons who went swimming in the dark and died a couple of years ago, so they were pretty cautious about letting us swim in the water. The lifeguards made sure that nobody went in any deeper than mid-thighs. We arrived early enough to get in an hour of wading (and getting washed into the shore by the huge and powerful waves) before dark.

We also had a chance to watch the pelicans flying in formation along the top of the waves, again and again as the tide was coming in.

April 14, 2008

Cost Rica Day Five

We started the day in Monteverde by planting trees to help built a shelter belt to stop the mountain from washing away in the rainy season. Each student got a tree and we found holes already dug in the hillside where we could plant our trees.

This is my little tree:
It is a tree related to a Lychee that is fast growing and will create a little forest of trees in no time.

The next activity was a walk through the cloud forest at the top of the great divide. This forest was a true jungle, and remains shrouded in cloud most of the time (hence the name). It doesn't have to rain much, because the plants can get enough moisture just from the ever-present mist.
I managed to snap a photo of this little guy hiding in the trees, waiting for the people to leave so he could continue to build his nest. Her nest? I'm not sure what kind of bird it is, or whether it is a female or a male, but it was only about the size of a canary.
and some picture of ferns just opening:
Then in the afternoon we went walking through the jungle on the suspended bridges:
I hate these things, and I had to just look straight ahead and walk quickly to get across all nine of them. The bridges are various lengths and heights, but all of them were too high and too long for me. Of course, I can't claim credit for this shot from the middle of one of the bridges:
but the scenery was incredible, and the walk on land parts of the trail was worth daring the bridges. There were a lot of people ziplining, but the zipline is only about the challenge of flying through the air, and it isn't possible to see anything of the jungle, so it didn't appeal to me at all. I was walking along, thinking about the tragedy of the loss of rain forest, and how few animals we had seen on the trip so far, and a little gecko scurried across my path, as if to remind me that they were there, they just chose not to show themselves.
We returned to the hotel for lunch, and then went to shop in the tiny town of Monteverde for a few hours before dark. The town is very small, and just made up of a few small shops, some hotels and a bank, but the bank had armed security guards and a special entrance that trapped each person as they walked through the double doors. Our bank cards still didn't work, even though the bank looked sophisticated enough.
Angel Raphael came to the hotel after supper for some more dance lessons, but everyone was so tired that they all retired early.

Costa Rica day four

The next day we were up bright and early to go to Monteverde. Before we left, I snapped some pictures of these goofy turkey birds (I don't know what they are called). They were about the size of a turkey, and were eating the fruit of a tree outside our hotel room. They had a bright red wattle under their beaks, that glowed when the sun shone through.

These beautiful flowers were also outside our door. The white parts are the flower and the yellow strings are the stamens.

We didn't get very far down the road when we stopped to let these little fellows cross the road:

They are called Coatimundi, but everyone calls them coatis (pronounced co ott ees). They were a bit curious, hoping we would feed them, but then they all toddled off after another bus and we resumed our trek.

We stopped again not too far down the road to help pull a small vehicle out of the ditch. It was quite dangerous to stop, because it is a classic way of highjacking a bus of tourists, but our Tour Director stood in the doorway of the bus until he was sure it was safe. Two scientists were out counting and collecting dead birds, and got themselves mired in the mud beside the road.

We tried pushing, but only succeeded in getting sprayed with mud. Carlos flagged down a passing taxi and borrowed a bit of rope which they tied to the tour bus, and used that to pull the car out of the ditch.

Our first planned stop of the day was at a small school.

There was only one teacher for the fifty kids in the community, and the school was very small and obviously poor. The teacher was away at a teacher's convention, but the kids and their parents wanted to enterain us anyway, in the hope of getting some donations so they could complete the construction of their gymnasium. They had the walls and floor but needed money for the roof. The kids danced some traditional dances, and some modern jazz dance, and were very proud of their routines.

The next planned activity was lunch and trail riding through the mountains. Before we started, a few of the more intrepid had a bit of a ride on this:

And then we got a lesson in horse dancing from Angel Raphael:

Some of the group had never ridden before, so the trail ride was exciting and scary, but for most of us it was just a nice peaceful ride through beautiful countryside.

When we arrived back from the trail ride, we all had a dance lesson, designed as a cool-down exercise to ease strained muscles, and leave everyone feeling happy and relaxed. It certainly did the trick.

A nice end to a long and exciting day.

From there, we headed off to the town of Monteverde, supper and bed.

April 8, 2008

Day three

We awoke in the morning to this incredible view of Arenal volcano:

The clouds didn't leave the peak of the volcano the entire time we in the vicinity, but we could frequently see red explosions and tumbling rocks raising dust and smoke.

We started our day with a trip into the small city of La Fortuna, to allow people to try to get money (which didn't work in most cases), and access to an internet cafe. Then we headed out to La Fortuna Falls for a swim. There is a hike down the side of a mountain to get to the water, which is helped a bit by the more than 370 steps - uneven, crumbling and treacherous steps that switchback across the very steep side of the mountain. Once at the bottom, the intrepid visitor is greeted by the incredible view of the waterfall:

and the opportunity to swim in the pristine cool water. We were warned to stay clear of swimming too close to the water, because the weight of the water coming down is deadly. There was a crowd there, and it was difficult to find a secluded area to swim, but we were so hot and tired after the climb down that it was worth the effort.

Then we had to face the climb back up.

In the afternoon we headed for Lake Arenal for a boat tour and a swim in the lake. The lake is man-made, and covers the remains of the town of Arenal, which was destroyed by the volcano in 1968. Apparently the church steeple can still be seen when the water level is low, but we didn't venture into that area of the lake to see if we could spot it. The lake is home to a wide variety of birds and mammals, including egrets and cormorants. I was very glad that I took my SLR camera, but I am still unhappy with the magnification of my zoom lense. I just can't get close enough to the wildlife to get a good shot without disturbing them.